Sunday, March 04, 2007

What Abortion Campaign?

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are Roe v. Wade in action

(Also see Roe v. Wade Affirmed Again)

The February 26 (2007) issue of TIME magazine features a front-page introduction to The Abortion Campaign You Never Hear About: Crisis pregnancy centers are working to win over one woman at a time. But are they playing fair?

There is something missing from the premises of this article. What abortion "campaign" is TIME talking about?

"Crisis pregnancy centers" is a catch-all term for citizens who believe abortion is the wrong choice, reaching out to pregnant women, offering various levels of assistance and/or propaganda. The goal, obviously, is to influence the individual choice whether to carry the pregnancy to term, or seek an abortion. (Propaganda simply means to present information, selectively, with the intention of winning others over to a distinct viewpoint).

In First Amendment terms, crisis pregnancy centers are engaged in freedom of speech and freedom of association, not unlike Planned Parenthood. They just have a different viewpoint. Nothing better demonstrates the enduring wisdom of Roe v. Wade.

No decision by the United States Supreme Court has ever said, or even implied, that abortion is a good choice, the right choice, or a socially desirable choice. All that Roe v. Wade ever said is, the decision to carry or terminate a pregancy, particularly in the first trimester, is so initimate, involves so many medical and personal variables, that in the finest traditions of American constitutional law, the police powers of the state have no legitimate role.

If not one woman in American chose to have an abortion, it would take nothing from the validity of that ruling.

Most Americans fervently believe that we have a right to privacy, to be left alone by our government in personal decisions that are nobody's business but our own. We disagree about what is private and what is a matter of public concern, but we darn well want the government to stay out of anything we personally believe we can handle without bureaucratic meddling. Applying constitutional analysis developed by Justices Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Supreme Court has in may cases agreed, and restrained the legislative branches of government from intruding too deeply into our private lives. Roe v. Wade was one result of this vigilant defense of our cherished liberties.

It is well established that the choice legally belongs to the pregnant woman. There are many organizations dedicated to assisting women in exercising that choice. Some make medically proper abortions, in sterile surroundings, performed by qualified medical teams, available to woman who could not afford the procedure, or could not find any other doctor to perform it. There are also organizations dedicated to offering assistance with the economic and emotional costs of carrying a pregnancy to term, and raising a baby after delivery. Some organizations, offering various viewpoints, offer more rhetoric than substance. Some organizations distort the truth, offering dated or doubtful information.

That is what free speech and public advocacy are all about. Everyone gets a voice. Everyone gets to choose what voices each of us will listen to. Nobody has the right to coerce another person's choice. If someone is so zealous in their advocacy that they cross the line into criminal fraud, that can be prosecuted. If someone provides detailed, and false, medical information, that may reach the point of practicing medicine without a license. Short of that, it is not generally a criminal offense to lie to another person. The remedy is for competing viewpoints to vigorously provide more complete and accurate information.

The fruitless and destructive debate over legislative action, to restore criminal penalties for abortion, is fought on very different principles than freely offering information, advice and aid to women who have the undoubted right to choose. To assist a woman in delivering a healthy baby is a far cry from threatening her with several years in prison. The important different is that crisis pregnancy centers have to say "Please" rather than saying "We will place you under arrest and prosecute you."

It remains true that there are indeed two lives concerned with every pregnancy. The two are not equal at all points during pregnancy. The Supreme Court wisely left open that states may prohibit abortion in the third trimester, when the fetus is an almost fully developed baby who could survive outside the womb if necessary. The only thing the state may not do at that stage is mandate that a woman facing serious complications sacrifice or risk her own life to save her baby. (A woman may of course CHOOSE to do so.)But in the first trimester, medical technology does not yet exist which would allow a determined right-to-life advocate to tell a pregnant woman "If you won't carry that baby for the next seven months, if you won't endure the morning sickness, if you won't go through delivery, transplant that precious life into my womb and I will take it from here." And it is not yet a baby. It is a new life growing within the womb of another, not yet capable of independent existence.

Crisis pregnancy centers may offer and advocate. So may Planned Parenthood. The CHOICE belongs to the pregnant woman. No matter what viewpoint is offered, that is all Roe v. Wade in action.


Polarbear said...

From a pure legal perspective, Roe v. Wade makes some sense. The laws of our land are generally good and we are privileged to live in the greatest country in the world despite all of its quirks and faults (myself included). However, the Consitution because of its brilliance has become its own American religion. People actually walk around with copies of the constituion in their pocket like it is a holy scripture.

This has led to the attitude of entitlement through rights. Everyone has the right to this or the right to that. Legally that is true in most cases and generally good for our society. However, spiritually, this has been perhaps the most damaging development to the church in America. People believe that they have rights when it comes to their relationship with God. We do not. God created us and can end that creation at any time in any way He sees fit. He alone is in control of our eternal conditions whether salvation or condemnation. We do not have the right to disagree with God. He allows us the freedom to disagree, but He will one day hold us accountable for our actions.

God's word makes it clear that children are a blessing from Him. They are not a requirement and He does not give that blessing to every couple for whatever reason. However, when He does give us that blessing, we do not have the right of refusal. We are not in control. We do NOT have a choice. This is an area where God's will supcedes the laws of our land. That is a scary thing for many Americans, which is why most Americans are not Christians. Americans do not like to give up control. Following Christ requires it. Who are we to say that our convenience supercedes the life of an unborn child. Other faiths understand this. Muslims are adament against this. It is generally only people in Hellenistic minded cultures where freedom rules supreme that this is really an issue. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but not when it becomes our god.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Dear Polarbear,

Thank you for your incisive comments. (I seldom have much evidence that anyone reads this site, so it is always encouraging when someone takes a posting seriously enough to respond.) I agree with your general perspective, but this does not bring me to the same specific conclusions.

It is certainly true that our American culture has created the attitude that the rights enumerated in our federal constitution are binding upon heaven and earth, fate and circumstance, man and nature, and essentially entitle each of us to anything our little hearts desire. In fact, our federal constitution is binding only upon the government which it brought into being, and to a lesser extent the states that subscribed to it, or were brought into the union under it. It restricts government action, not nature, not God, not the inevitable unfairness of life in an imperfect world. If the constitution says I have a legal right to do X, that means I cannot be arrested and imprisoned for it, nor subjected to civil suit by some jerk who is "offended." If God clearly says I should not do X, I am accountable to God for my action.

For example, some churches teach that consuming one drop of an alcoholic beverage is a sin. I can legally drink, but if I wish to belong to such a church, or if I believe that God has so commanded, I will not exercise this legal right, in deference to a higher authority. (Remember the Hebrew National sausage commercial?)

I also agree that we have no "rights" that are binding upon the Creator of the universe in our favor. It is a very grave understatement to point out that God pre-dates the Constitution of the United States of America. God will judge in whatever manner God pleases, at whatever time God pleases, not because any man-made law authorizes God to do so, not because I said so, not because you said so, but simply because God is God. There is no higher power within the created universe which is binding upon its creator. However, we do have a choice, always. We can choose to do what God has commanded, or we can choose to do otherwise. Either choice has consequences, some pleasant, some unpleasant. Those who choose to be obedient to God find the unpleasant consequences of that choice a price worth paying to experience the pleasant consequences. Those who make the opposite choice find the immediate gratification which often results more important than the long term pain.

What is critical about the First Amendment's guarantees that Congress (and by extension the states) shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof, is that we cannot impose upon each other in the name of God. The state is incompetent to speak for God, to act for God, to determine which of many competing doctrines and beliefs are a correct reflection of what God would have us do. Voting majorities can no more speak for God than kings, generals and dictators. Each individual has to listen for themselves, study for themselves, and decide, ultimately, for themselves, as to their own relationship to God.

Voters and legislators are, of course, informed by their own moral sense when they participate as citizens in formulating the laws of the land. When it comes to abortion, there is no middle ground between those who proclaim that all abortion is murder, and those who proclaim that it is a routine and even a desirable minor medical procedure. But most Americans subscribe to neither view, and exist in a political middle ground which denies both of these polar opposites.

For myself, I do not accept the flat statement that embryos are tiny babies. That is considerably more foolish than saying that a tadpole is a little frog, or a caterpillar is a little butterfly. Major changes occur between one and the other, none more so than in the growth of a mass of stem cells into the highly specialized organs and organism of a human baby. The history of Christianity is all over the map on this subject, from absolute prohibition to doctrines that the soul does not attach until 40 days, or 120 days, or until the fetus looks like a human being, or whatever. Nor is it clear from any available translation of the Sefer Tanach (aka "Old Testament") or the Gospels and Epistles (New Testament) that every child, much less every pregnancy, is a blessing from God.

There have been times and places where a child was considered to be G-d's punishment upon a promiscuous woman, not a blessing at all. However, I find it hard to burden a child from infancy with the message that "You are your mommy's punishment for conceiving you in the first place." There are studies which have concluded that the women most likely to seek abortions are women most unfit to be mothers: indifferent or cruel, likely to abuse their children and raise embittered narcissistic monsters who will terrorize others when they grow up. To balance that, those women least likely to seek abortions, those who gratefully tell glowing tales of the joys of raising their beautiful child after rejecting the option to abort, were precisely the women best suited to raise children.
Until very recently, huge numbers of children died within a year of birth. Half the children born never reached the age of 18.
It is our own science and medicine, not supernatural intervention, which changed that natural condition. I believe God is pleased with at least some of the use we have made of the skills he endowed us with, but it is a change. The same could be said of the tremendous number of women who died in childbirth until the past 150 years or so. Was that a blessing from God?

If parents who have obtained prenatal tests decide that a fetus growing with severe genetic deformities had best be terminated, so they can start over and seek a healthier child, I have no problem with that. There are a very very small percentage of individuals of whom I can say, without the slightest hesitation, it would have been a blessing if they had never been born. Not the ones with five year old minds in 35 year old bodies, who smile and call me by name and are able to walk, talk, feed, dress and use the bathroom themselves. I refer rather to the ones whose sit and stare into space all day, unable to communicated with anyone, feed themselves, choose their food, or get out of their chair. The ones who sit and drool on themselves as they are moved from one incomprehensible place to another in a wheel chair they did not choose. The ones who arrive uncomprehending at day programs, to be dragged bodily to the bathroom screaming "No! No!"

But, I cannot judge for families who choose to carry such pregnancies to term. There are families who believe such pregnancies are indeed a blessing from God, or a test that must be fulfilled, not evaded. There are families who treat such people with genuine affection, however unable the offspring is to return that affection in any discernible way. I believe it may be cruel and selfish to bring a child into the world with so many strikes against it, considering the life of suffering they will experience, but who am I to judge? There are too many imponderables. So, the law leaves you free to follow your conscience, me to follow mine, and both of us to hope and pray that we are making the right decision.

That God will judge us all is beyond the scope of constitutional law or legislative enactments. The notion that God will judge America, as a nation, for refraining from imposing prison sentences or death sentences on those who commit abortions, I doubt very much. If God is going to judge America, it will be for running our country on bread and circuses, wasting tremendous resources while half the world starves. It will be for leaving millions of our own people in material and spiritual poverty, where promiscuity appears to be a natural fate and abortion an economic imperative.

Polarbear said...

This is good dialoge. I appreciate the response. I hope to get some time to respond appropriately. Take care and have a great weekend.